The cursor blinks in a steady rhythm on the blank page. You type a sentence, then delete it. You type another sentence, fix a few words, then delete it. You open another document and read the chapter you wrote two months ago. You return to the blank page and stare at it again. You check your email, then the news, and before you know it, an hour has passed and you’re scrolling through Instagram, all while that blank page silently mocks you.
Sound familiar? Every writer struggles with writer’s block. It’s a rite of passage. Writer’s block is a frustrating creative roadblock, but you can’t let it break you down.
Let’s be honest: writing is hard work. It takes time, effort, and creative energy. When we get into a groove and lose steam, it can feel detrimental to our writing process. This article discusses the common causes of writer’s block and tips about how to overcome it.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
The first thing to understand is that feeling stuck is a normal part of the writing process. Every writer experiences writer’s block at some point.
While there are numerous causes of writer’s block, the following are some of the most common:
- Too many distractions
- Fear of failure
- Focusing on the minutia
- No ideas
- Too many ideas
Let’s dive a little deeper into why you may have writer’s block, as well as some tips on how to overcome it.
Too Many Distractions
We live in a hectic world where life gets in the way. We have jobs, children to feed and get off to school, pets to walk, social lives to maintain, and errands to run. It’s no surprise that you can barely find time to sit in front of the computer and write. Then when you have intentions to write, the phone is ringing, emails need to be answered, and you have a doctor’s appointment. There are too many distractions that can take you away from your writing.
Fear of Failure
While you may not realize it, fear can be a major factor in holding you back and causing writer’s block. Many writers are afraid to fail before they even begin. Our culture is filled with comparisons. We compare ourselves to others in writing, relationships, and successes.
If you lack confidence in your writing, it’s likely that fear is the culprit. Fear tells you that you’re not creative enough and that your ideas will never come to fruition on the page. Fear tells you that your writer friends and published authors will always be better than you. It’s time to tell fear to take a hike.
Focusing on the Minutia
Do you spend a lot of time reworking and revising your sentences? This type of self-editing can hinder your progress and lead to writer’s block. Your characters and settings come to life on the page when your words flow freely and uninterrupted. You can be your own roadblock if you’re struggling to find the right adjective (because the previous three weren’t quite right).
When you agonize over every little word, it can be difficult to move forward. I discuss this in my article, “Feeling Stuck? A Developmental Editor Can Help.” Something that is poorly written can be edited and revised later.
Writer’s block can happen when you don’t have any new or creative ideas. It’s hard to write when there are no ideas formulating in your brain. Then thoughts of self-doubt creep in, and you’ll think, “I can’t write because I don’t know what to write.” This type of writer’s block can lead to procrastination and giving up.
Too Many Ideas
When there are too many ideas floating around, it can lead to a lack of focus. Swirling around in your brain are eight character sketches, ten plot points, and three red herrings, and you want to write about all of it!
Having too many ideas can lead to burnout and writer’s block if you can’t juggle them in a productive manner.
Many times, you’ll sit down with intention and know exactly what you’ll want to work on. “I’m working on chapter 8 today!” you’ll declare with gusto. But this type of thinking will force you into a corner if writer’s block is rearing its ugly head.
What happens next is a snowball effect. The creativity has been sucked dry, and instead of allowing your mind to steer you creatively in another direction, your brain insists that you need to work on chapter 8. You are trying to force something to happen when there is too much resistance.
10 Tips on How to Overcome Writer’s Block
While writer’s block can be personalized, here are 10 tangible tips on what you can do to help you overcome writer’s block. Sometimes, implementing several of these tips at the same time can help jar the creative roadblock loose. The trick is figuring out what works best for you.
Reading books and short stories is an excellent way to overcome writer’s block. When you’re feeling stuck, reading can provide a lot of inspiration and spark ideas. Read works by authors you admire, as well as books and stories in your genre. You never know what ideas will come to you while you’re reading.
#2: Change Your Location
If your writing space is cluttered, or if you can hear your children playing in the other room, you may want to consider changing your location. A change in scenery can trigger new ideas. If you’ve never written in a coffee shop before, try it out and see what comes of it. You may be surprised at how much the change in your environment can unleash your creativity.
#3: Designate a Time to Write
Timing is everything, so set aside a specific time to write. This automatically creates space for you to block out some time to get creative.
It may take some trial and error to determine the best time to write. Many times, the actual time you sit down to write isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have been writing in the morning before your daily errands, the looming tasks ahead may be preventing you from really settling into a writing groove. You will need to figure out when you are most creative.
Once you designate a time that works for you, stick to a writing schedule. Plan to write for thirty minutes to an hour every day, every other day, or once a week. The choice is up to you. If you pencil in time, writing will eventually become a habit.
#4: Write Something
Don’t let writer’s block stop you from writing. If you intended to work on your novel but can’t figure out what should happen in the scene, write something else . . . anything else.
Write whatever you want. Don’t think, just write. Write whatever comes to your mind. Write whatever you see in your room. Write about a conversation you had earlier in the day. The idea is to get something on the page.
#5: Use Writing Prompts
When we don’t know what to write, we often admit defeat and tell ourselves that we’ll try again tomorrow. Procrastination is not a writer’s friend. If you want to break out of the writer’s block funk, it goes without saying that you need to write.
Use writing prompts to help you get some ideas on the page. There are many writing prompts available on the internet, as well as writing prompt books you can buy or take out of the library. Writing prompts are a great way to step out of your comfort zone and write something random. Have fun with it!
#6: Switch it Up
If you are feeling stuck in your story and don’t know which direction to go, switch it up! Don’t stick to your regular format or writing style.
For example, you could write a scene from the perspective of a character that is not your protagonist, or you could rewrite a scene from the first person to the third person. This type of exploratory writing will keep you within the framework of your story. While the scene may not make it into your final draft, it can help you explore your characters and your story in a new light.
#7: Skip to the Middle or the End
Many writers prefer to work in a linear narrative from beginning to end. But if you’re struggling on what to write in chapter five, skip ahead to the middle or the end. Starting in a different place in your story or novel can help combat writer’s block.
I discuss plot points—a story’s major events—in my article, “What Is a Plot Point?” It may be productive to write the major events in your story first, then backtrack and fill in the blanks.
#8: Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method that can help overcome writer’s block. It involves setting a timer in twenty-five-minute blocks. The allotted time span of twenty-five minutes, known as the pomodoro, has been shown to maximize productivity.
You must set aside all distractions and commit to writing—and only writing—for twenty-five minutes. Then take a break. Then write for another twenty-five minutes. You will feel a sense of accomplishment afterward.
#9: Do Something Else
Sometimes we just need to step away to get some clarity and perspective. Close your document, turn off your laptop, and do something else. Give your mind a rest. Take a walk around the block, dance to your favorite song, or cook a nourishing meal.
It’s important to take mental breaks during the writing process. Engage in activities that will help you relax. Some people find that having a cup of tea, doing yoga, meditating, or performing deep breathing exercises can be effective at lowering anxiety. You may be surprised at what ideas swirl in your brain when you’re not staring at your computer.
#10: Be Kind to Yourself
Writer’s block is just that: a block. It’s not a permanent barricade that can never be broken down or conquered. Don’t let it get you down. Remind yourself that you will get your creative mojo back, and when you do, our editors at First Editing will be there to cheer you on and help take your writing to the next level!